Physical Exercise, Aging, and Mild Cognitive Impairment

This article examines the relationship between exercise and mild cognitive impairment among elderly individuals. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment are significantly more likely to develop dementia than individuals with normal cognitive function. Exercise is thought to have a protective effect against both physical and mental disease for elderly individuals.

The authors used data from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. They conducted a population-based case-control study with 198 individuals with mild cognitive impairment and 1,126 individuals with normal cognition. The average age in both groups was over 80 years. The study examined exercise at midlife and in the year prior to cognitive assessment.

Key Findings:

  • Moderate exercise performed in either midlife or late-life significantly reduced the likelihood of mild cognitive impairment.
  • Individuals who exercised moderately in midlife were 39 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment at the time of the study than those who did not exercise. Similarly, individuals who exercised moderately in late life were 32 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than those who did not exercise.
  • Forms of moderate exercise included brisk walking, strength training, swimming and aerobics.
  • Light exercise and vigorous exercise were also linked to a protective effect against cognitive impairment. However, the relationship was not statistically significant, due to limited statistical power in these smaller groups.

Physical exercise appears to be linked to lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. Because the study was cross-sectional and not randomized, a causal effect cannot be assigned to these findings.